February 26, 2007

I'm not planning too big a rant at the moment, but I do want to get some thoughts out there on politics.

In November, 2008, we will be electing yet another president, and the race is already well under way. I have lost count of the number of Republicans and Democrats who have officially announced they are in, or who have indicated strong inclination to do so.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of them. Too many for any but the most devoted politics junkie to follow.

There are two things I want to talk about. The first is a few thoughts on why we have so many candidates this year, and the second is to offer my thoughts on a few of them.

Lots of candidates

So, why so many candidates this year? I don't know, of course. That said, it seems like more people have felt emboldened enough to enter the race, including many relatively low profile politicians. My theory is that a lot them think they can pull off a Howard Dean performance.

Dean was a relative unknown in 2004, but was able to build a grass roots following over the internet that propelled him into national prominence. He flamed out in the primaries, of course, and many people think back and think it was the infamous "yeeeeaaargh!" scream (my recollection, though, is that he wasn't at the front of the pack when he screamed into the microphone, but that's beside the point). His big claim to fame at the time was that he was opposed to the Iraq war from the get-go. Now, many people think he was right all along, and therefore that they should have supported him when he was running.

So, I think a good portion of the lesser known presidential contenders could be thinking that they'll follow the Howard Dean plan. Get some positions out there that will galvanize the internet crowd, avoid screaming into the microphone, and voila! You can win!

At this point, one of the contenders (Governor Vilsack) has already dropped out. Apparently he hadn't realized that you need to raise a lot of money to run for president, especially if a lot of other people are running, too.

I don't think it will work. As much as I like the idea of a relative unknown coming out of nowhere, grabbing some momentum and winning the thing, I don't know that it's possible.... unless you count Barak Obama..... or Bill Clinton..... or Jimmy Carter..... Oh, what do I know?

Current contenders

As we get closer to the election, I will probably do another rant like this one where I give thoughts on each of the candidates. With so many in the running, that would just be too painful right now, so I'm going to wait until the heard has thinned a bit.

But there are a few high-profile candidates out there right now, and I want to share some thoughts on them. None of these are particularly groundbreaking, but so be it.

I should preface this by saying that I am about 85% likely to vote for a Democrat during the next election. A moderate Republican who is liberal on social issues could get my vote if the Democratic candidate turns me off, but it's not likely.


Hillary Clinton: Hillary has always been a front runner for the Democrats, and from what I understand she has the biggest war chest at this point. This has always scared me. First, I don't know why she is so popular, other than that her husband is Bill Clinton. I don't have a really firm idea of her positions, and it's not like she is overflowing with charisma, so I think right now she is basking in her husband's lingering glow. I am quite sure that, deep down, people want to vote for Hillary because they think doing so is the closest they can get to reelecting Bill Clinton, without violating that pesky 22nd Amendment.

I thought Bill Clinton was a very good president, personal pecadillos aside. I am sympathetic to the idea of electing Hillary on the theory that some of what Bill did probably reflected her input, and I would expect him to give her his thoughts (I was going to say "give her his input" but given Bill's past, that could have come out wrong) if she were president. It would be sort of like electing Bill's brother, without having to vote for Roger Clinton, the alcoholic failed saxophone player.

That said, I think it would be disasterous for Hillary to win the nomination. The right hates her. I don't mean they disagree with her politics, I mean they really and truly hate her. If she were to be the Democratic candidate, the right would be able to whip up such a frenzy that she would not stand a chance, no matter how good her operation is. As I said in an earlier post, the Democrats need to swing some Bush voters their way in order to win an election, and it seems to me that Hillary would not be able to do it.

Barack Obama: Barack Obama is a media darling, and why not? Without meaning to sound like Joe Biden, he is extremely charismatic and articulate. He speaks of his positions in a way that makes a lot of people say "yes, that seems like a very thoughtful, reasonable position on this issue." And yes, he's black. Without meaning to sound like Joe Biden, it is not often that an African-American presidential candidate grabs such a mainstream following, so the press is all over this.

I like Obama a lot. When I hear him speak, I usually find myself agreeing with what he says on the issues. At this point, there is nothing really negative to say about him (except, ooooooh, he used to smoke! mercy!).

Note that I said "at this point." I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. Call me cynical, but I think there has to be some skeleton in the closet that has yet to come out. He hasn't been in national politics long enough to have been thoroughly vetted by the press -- but I suppose you could also say he hasn't been in national politics long enough to have done anything really bad.

The most frequently-cited issue I've seen is his experience -- meaning the lack thereof. It is a very real issue that he has no experience being an executive branch manager (not a mayor, not a governor), but there have been very successful presidents with a similar level of experience (JFK comes to mind, though he had a bit more time on the national stage). I also think Obama is smart enough to surround himself with smart people who can provide the kind of experience he lacks.

I guess where I am now is this: if his profile stays the way it is now, I really like Obama a lot. Assuming he doesn't sink into oblivion, I think I'll like him even more in 6 years.

John Edwards: John Edwards is the former vice presidential candidate with John Kerry. The scuttlebut back in 2003 was that he was a Bill Clinton in training in the way that he connected with an audience, and that he was pretty good on policy. I need to see more of him over the coming weeks and months, but I just don't have a good feeling about him. He strikes me as being a little bit phony, a little bit too packaged.

Right now, he is spending his time on three things:

  • Distancing himself from the Kerry campaign.
  • Attacking his opponents on Iraq.
  • Promoting his pet issue of poverty.

I can understand why he focuses on all three issues, but.... they still just don't rub me the right way.

Al Gore: Gore doesn't actually have a website, so that's just a link to one of the many sites out there urging people to "draft" Gore into the presidency. I don't know if Gore would really try to mount a campaign. He says he's not interested, but they all say that until they actually announce. I can see why he would be reluctant -- for one thing, in order to take down Hillary he'd have to run against Bill Clinton, his old boss.

That said, a potential campaign theme of "Now is the time when good men must be called to serve in the interest of their country" (or whatever the actual quote is) is a powerful one. I happen to like Gore quite a bit, and think he'd have a very good chance if he decided to run, but I'll reserve judgment unless and until he actually does it.

As silly as it may seem, one of the things that really helped me come around on Gore was this video, made by Spike Jonze for the 2000 campaign, but apparently never released.

Well, this has already gotten a lot longer than I intended, and I started petering out during the John Edwards thing. I'll get the Republicans next time. Before I go though, I want to share one somewhat encouraging thought:

  • If you look at the current Republican front runners (Giuliani and McCain ahead of the pack, with Gingrich or Romney coming in third), one thing is clear: with the exception of Gingrich, they are all moderates.

Of course, they vary by degree, and all of them are struggling to position themselves to the right for the primaries at the moment, disclaiming their earlier positions on abortion, gay marriage and other "liberal" issues. They can do the math, and they can all see that the key to the primaries will not be picking up the moderate vote, but rather capturing a chunk of the right wing.

But there is no hiding this one simple fact: these guys (except Gingrich) are not rabid right-wingers. I view that as an extremely positive development.

Of course, as always, I welcome your thoughts either by sending me an e-mail or posting in the Guestbook.

April 18, 2006

Over the past year or so, there have been a ton of subjects I was momentarily tempted to rant about but, as you can see, I never got around to it. I've finally decided to begin a digital brain dump. This may ramble a bit.


Ever since September 11, everyone in the US has been all abuzz about security. President Bush and the rest of the administration mention terrorism, September 11th, the War on Terror, etc. every chance they get (some say they do it in order to distract people from domestic troubles, and I confess I am suspicious as well). The Daily Show has done a very good job of pointing this out in their analyses of State of the Union addresses and other speeches.

Now, they are using it to justify the President's order to monitor telephone calls between people in the US and people overseas, even though it seems fairly clear that this monitoring is illegal (maybe I'll rant about that later. We will see when get there).

It all makes sense, of course. We all remember the shock of September 11th, and there never has been a satisfactory sense that we "got" the people responsible. The result? We are all still afraid of being attacked again, and that is a powerful political button to push.

Ah, but I am veering into politics, and I want to keep that separate for now.

So back to the point about security. Everyone wants to do something to make the country more secure. Random bag checks in subways, enhanced airport screening, more video cameras, and on and on.

But there is a little point that those who study the issue all know, but nobody wants to admit:

There is nothing we can do to stop the next attack. Nothing at all.

Let me say that again:

There is nothing we can do to stop the next attack.

I know that seems a little doom-and-gloom, but let me explain.

Our government (Democrats and Republicans alike) is spending a fortune on increasing security. We created a brand new Department of Homeland Security, with its Transportation Security Administration. Most of the DHS is a repackaging of existing security and related agencies and departments (my brother in law Sean can probably rattle off a dozen formerly separate agencies, departments and the like that now fall within DHS), but the TSA is a new one. The TSA is spending a fortune manning X-Ray machines, screening passengers, creating massive "no-fly" databases listing suspects, and generally trying to figure out a way to prevent another attack like September 11th.

And that, of course, is the first problem I want to talk about: we are spending money trying to prevent a repeat of the last attack. I am not a military man, obviously, but I have heard of an old military cliché - you are always training to fight the last war, rather than the next one. In the US Civil War, armies were lining up across fields just like Napoleon and his contemporaries (including our own General Washington) had done. Of course, by that time, technology had improved to make rifles more accurate, and to allow rapid fire Gatling guns, so lining up across fields just made it easier to kill each other. World War I began with cavalry charges running against machine guns, with the resulting devastation.

But again, I digress.

My point is that there is no reason we should assume that the next attack will involve airliners flown into skyscrapers. Assume for the moment that we become 100% effective at preventing terrorists from taking over airplanes. If we close off that avenue of attack, they will simply pick a different one. Toss a chemical into a skyscraper's air conditioning system. Send a suicide bomber into a shopping mall like they do in Israel. Attack a school like they did in Russia. Blow up a subway like they did in Madrid and London. If someone wants to plan an attack, they are not limited to using airplanes, so why do we spend so much money protecting airplanes?

The answer, of course, is that the public is still thinking about hijacked airplanes, so the best way to make us think the government is doing things is to make a very public show of preventing that attack.

You may have heard the recent announcement/leak of an alleged terrorist plot to fly an airplane into a skyscraper in LA. Assuming the plot was real, we can obviously all be pleased that the national security establishment was able to detect and prevent it. But you know what? The plot wasn't foiled by any of the measures put in place to protect airliners. I don't know exactly how it was foiled (I suspect good old informants and signals intelligence), but it was clearly well before any of the plotters tried to get on an airplane.

My point here is not that we need to work equally hard to prevent every type of attack we can think of. My point is that we are allocating a huge amount of what we have decided to spend on preventing one specific type of attack.

Which brings me to the second problem I want to talk about: we can't prevent every conceivable attack. For one thing, we could never think of everything. For another, there are plenty of attacks that simply can't be prevented in any realistic way. I'll rattle off just a few ideas we could do almost nothing to stop once they are put in motion:

  • Take over a school bus full of children.
  • Send kamikaze drivers through Manhattan during rush hour, plowing into crowds coming out of the train stations.
  • Blow up a truck on a major bridge, or going over a dam.
  • Release the ebola virus in a convention center.

(I thought of those in about 5 minutes, and I don't spend my life planning attacks, so just imagine what a professional could come up with.)

How would you prevent those, given limited budgets and manpower?

The third problem is that even when we decide to focus on a particular problem, the steps we take are ineffective. There is a security guru by the name of Bruce Schneier who uses the term "security theater" to describe this phenomenon: do things that look good and score political points, even if they are ultimately ineffective.

A case in point: checking identification. It happens all over the place now, including airports and office buildings. It makes people feel good to know that something is being done to screen people as they enter facilities or pick up their plane tickets. But let's keep something in mind: a number of the 9/11 terrorists were operating under their own names with completely valid identification. Airlines and security officials could have run their names against every criminal database out there, could have looked up their driving records, their credit history, every other database they could find, and would have come up with nothing useful (assuming they don't decide to detain every middle eastern man who seems to travel a lot).

A momentary digression. Do you know why airlines began asking for picture IDs when you get to the ticket counter and elsewhere in the boarding process? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with security. Airlines began doing this long before 9/11, and they do it to prevent people from transferring their tickets to someone else. The airlines know that knowing a passenger's real name doesn't mean much in terms of security. Knowing a real name does, however, enable them to prevent ticket swapping, which in turn enables them to charge cancellation fees if someone tries to cancel their ticket (or to charge more for tickets that are refundable).

Another part of security theater is the new, expanded list of things you can't bring on a plane. Let's ignore for the moment the silly things like nail clippers. The list is inevitably incomplete, and everyone knows it. I do some traveling for work, and always bring my laptop with me, as well as some CDs. Have you ever seen a broken CD? If one were so inclined, how hard would it be to get up, shatter a CD-ROM and cut some throats? Or break the glass screen (if it's not one of those squishy LCD screens)? Or break any other part of the machine to make a jagged object? The reality is that if someone wants to get a weapon on a plane, there are plenty of raw materials that even the most thorough X-ray, wand, pat down and cavity probe would prevent getting on the plane. And you will never see laptops and CDs getting banned because the passengers wouldn't stand for it and the airlines know it.

Ok, you might say, but at least we're getting rid of the more obvious weapons. That's something, right? Yes, it would be, but it doesn't work. Look at any recent review of airport security where they deliberately try to smuggle contraband onto flights - the screeners always miss a substantial percentage of the weapons sought to be brought on board. And it's not the screeners' fault. Here is a report on actual weapons smuggled onto airplanes and it shows what they looked like on an X-ray. Think you could spot these things among the thousands of bags you see every day?

My point is that security theater makes us all feel better about what the government is trying to do to protect us, but it is ultimately ineffective. Probably the one most useful thing to come out of the recent security focus is reinforcing the doors to the cockpits for airliners. That's actually helpful, so long as terrorists can't convince pilots to open the doors (how about this - terrorist swears they are just hijackers, and that they will kill passengers until the pilot opens the door. What would you do if you were the pilot?).

Ok, let's wrap this up.

If terrorists want to strike in the US, they will. There is very little we can do to stop them, since we cannot anticipate all the possible attacks. We have to learn to live with that fact.

We also have to learn not to waste time and resources on security theater. Where we can spend money on an effective measure to increase security (without placing an unreasonable burden on the public), we should. Like reinforcing cockpit doors.

Where we should be focusing our efforts is on detection of plots before they are put into place, through monitoring and infiltration of networks. You can never stop a lone nut, but when there is an organization behind an attack, it is possible to get someone on the inside of that organization to provide information. As for monitoring, I am not endorsing the kind of warrantless, illegal monitoring approved by the Bush administration, but rather monitoring within the letter and spirit of the law.

I think I've run out of things to say on this topic so I will stop now. If you are interested in this sort of thing, I have two reading recommendations for you:

(Yes, I am bit of a Bruce Schneier fan.)

This was way too long and not as well-organized as I like. If you've read this far, I hope you found it interesting, and I hope this challenges you to think a little bit about this issue.

Of course, as always, feel free to disagree and to tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

November 4, 2004

This is going to be a long one

Molly and I are bitterly disappointed that John Kerry lost the presidential election, and that the Republicans had such a strong showing overall.

Let's look at the facts:

  • George Bush won the popular vote by roughly 3.5 million votes. In 2000, Bush lost the popular vote by roughly 500,000 votes.
  • Republicans won (and Democrats lost) 4 seats in the Senate (as of this writing, the Florida seat is still undecided, but leaning towards the Republicans, so this may soon be 5). That may not seem like much, but the practical effect is a change from a 2-3 vote divide (depending on how the one independent votes) to a 10-11 vote divide.
  • Republicans picked up at least 4 votes in the House, stretching an already wide divide even wider.


Why have the Republicans been so successful in this election and others over the past ten years? Remember, with the exception of Clinton's re-election in 1996, the Republicans have been doing very well – taking control of the presidency, Congress and a healthy majority of governorships.

I have been asking friends and colleagues this question and the most frequent answers revolve around some common themes: fear (inspired by dishonest Republican fearmongering), voters being misled and lied to by the administration, voters not being informed about the issues and the facts, voters being closed-minded Bible thumping bigots, voters being stupid sheep, etc.

But I don’t buy any of those explanations. It’s too pat, too easy, too superior. Lots of smart people vote Republican as well, and they aren’t all Halliburton employees or otherwise financially motivated (e.g., by tax cuts for the rich). There are plenty of middle-American, well-educated people who consistently vote Republican. So what is going on?

Is America a conservative country?

Last night, Bob Novak, a conservative commentator and columnist, explained the results by saying that the United States is a conservative country and that the Democrats have not accepted that fact. At first, this seems like a logical conclusion. The Republican Party is now -- pretty much officially -- the conservative party. Yes, there are some token conservative Democrat politicians and there might be a liberal Republican politician still alive somewhere, but you don't see them very much unless they are trotted out by the other party. So that must mean the country has accepted the conservative ideology.

According to poll results, though, this is way off the mark. Roughly 33% of the population considers itself "conservative." By the same polls, roughly 20% of the country considers itself "liberal" and the remainder – roughly 40-45% of the country, identifies itself as "moderate."

Some polls allow finer points of analysis by allowing people to use a spectrum from "very liberal," "liberal," "moderate," etc., and these numbers more or less hold up. For example, I grabbed a handful of polls to put together this analysis, and, for the one I am looking at (which came from the Economist) if you combine "very liberal" with "liberal" you get 23% and if you combine "very conservative" with "conservative" you get 29%. "Moderate" came in at 38% and "don't know" came in at 10%. The numbers will vary by a few points from poll to poll, but the rough breakdown remains the same.

Here are a few more tidbits on how people identify their own affiliation and what that meant for the election:

Not only did Kerry win by an 86-13 margin among self-described liberals, he also won by a 55-45 margin among self-described moderates. So how'd Bush pull it off? He won 84-15 among self-described conservatives, and, more importantly, he made sure conservatives comprised a much bigger chunk of the electorate than they did in 2000. (Conservatives comprised about 34 percent of the electorate yesterday, versus 29 percent in 2000 -- a huge shift, raw numbers-wise.)

(This is from The National Review)

So, you cannot attribute the Republicans' success to a majority of the population identifying itself as conservative. At best, it accounts for about 60% of the Republican vote. Where does the other 40% come from?

Assuming that very few self-described liberals vote Republican (though some do every time), there are two possibilities:

  1. The Republicans are convincing many moderates to vote for them, or
  2. A good portion of the moderates are actually conservatives but do not want to identify themselves that way to pollsters.

It is probably a little bit of both, but I think the first theory accounts for more of the votes than the second one.

Again, though, why? Part of it may be that there are some very visible Republican moderates out there (Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain, to name a few), which gives moderates some cover when they vote for a conservative Republican candidate. But that can't be all of it. The Democrats haven't run a real liberal candidate in decades, opting instead for moderate after moderate (Kerry was more liberal than many, but by no means a raving leftie), while the Republicans have consistently pushed aside moderate presidential candidates in favor of avowed conservatives. Shouldn't that make moderates gravitate towards the Democrats? Well, it hasn't.

I don’t pretend to have an answer to this question, but clearly Democratic victory depends on either making more people believe in “liberal” values, or in getting more of the moderate vote in elections.

The religious vote

In the most recent election, churchgoers overwhelmingly voted Republican, at least among Christian voters, with a nearly 20 point spread for protestants (Kerry does much better with Jews and “Other”, taking roughly 75% in each case, and with those who say they have no religion, taking 68%). Christians accounted for 81% of the voters this year, so this is a huge advantage.

There also seems to be direct correlation between actual church attendance and Republican voters. Those who attend church weekly went 61% to Bush, while Kerry took 53% of those who go to church occasionally, and 63% of those who never go to church.

Why? Are Christians more conservative? Not according to a statistic I heard on the radio today. There, it was claimed that there are just as many self-described liberals in the church audience as there are conservatives.

Of course, the Southern, born-again evangelicals and devout Catholics tend to be very socially conservative, but that classification certainly does not apply to all Christian denominations.

Bush talked a good deal about faith during the campaign. Did that trigger a groundswell of support among Christians? Possibly. Kerry talked about faith, too, but I got the sense he was just going through the motions. Or maybe I just wanted that to be the case.

So what is going on? Again, it looks like the Republican success with moderates must be doing the trick. I don’t know why, but the Democrats sure need to find out.

Are Republicans ignorant?

No, no and emphatically no. Sure, some are, but I would wager there are just as many undereducated Democrats as Republicans, and the statistics bear this out. Bush won across every education level from high school graduate through college graduate. Kerry only won among those with graduate degrees. The two tied among those who had no high school at all.

Yes, I suppose you could say that the really smart people prefer Kerry, but that does not mean those who vote Bush are stupid. Even so, the margins across each education level are 8 points or less.

So you can’t say that people vote Republican because they are ignorant.

Are Republicans all rich?

The education statistics should answer that question, but here is the real data: Bush won among those who earn more than $50,000 a year (56%), and Kerry won among those who make less than $50,000 a year (55%). While these translate to roughly 10 point margins in each case, it certainly does not explain the election by itself.

Is it about security and terrorism?

You might argue that security and terrorism pushed Bush into the winner’s column this year (though, interestingly, it was not the number one issue identified by voters, it was identified as the key issue by only 19% of those polled – more on that later), and was a big help to those Republicans who were elected in 2002. That is probably true (and you can have your own opinion over whether people who are worried about terrorism are making the right choice in voting for Bush – I happen to think Kerry would do an equal or better job of it). That said, it’s a fairly new issue, and can’t explain what went on in the 1990s, or why Bush got elected in 2000.

“Moral Values”

Let’s look at what people identified as the “most important issue.” While there was no clear top choice, “moral values” came in highest with 22%, followed by economy/jobs (20%), terrorism (19%), and Iraq (15%).

Bush won big among those identifying moral values and terrorism (81% and 86%, respectively), while Kerry won big among those identifying the economy/jobs and Iraq (80% and 73%, respectively).

But what does “moral values” mean? Some say it is a proxy for opposition to gay marriage and civil unions (though 60% of the country favors those options – see below). While that certainly helped get people to the polls (through clever placement of gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in key states), I don't think the gay marriage issue is what swung this election, so I don't think that's the only thing people think of when they talk about "moral values". I think it is really more of a vague catch-all for a number of issues, ranging from abortion to gay marriage to stem cells to affirmative action to prayer in schools.

Again, what does it all mean? Does the population think Kerry has different moral values than the rest of the population? Obviously those who think this is an important issue think so, based on the results.

Are there just more Republicans?

Nope. Democrats and Republicans can each claim 37% of the voters this election. 26% of voters identified themselves as Independent.

Summing up

Well, I seriously doubt anyone has gotten this far, so I will sum up:

  • You can’t dismiss Republican voters as ignorant sheep.
  • You can say that Republicans do very well among regular churchgoers.
  • I don’t know what it is about Bush and the Republican party that people seem to like, but there is something going on that Democrats need to understand. Whether it is coming up with a more effective counter to Republican campaign strategies or trying harder to make the Democratic case to the people, the Democrats need to do something.

Other notes of interest

Just a few additional points about the election:

  • The Republican gains in the House have a lot to do with the unprecedented mid-decade redistricting that took place in Texas last year. That redistricting was engineered by Republicans looking to create 4 new Republican safe seats out of what used to be Democratic seats. And it worked.
  • Bush has been proudly claiming that more people voted for him this year than voted for any other President in US history. That is true. However, more people voted for Kerry this year than for any President in US history (other than Bush this year, of course). Bush’s statistic has more to do with population growth and voter turn-out than any kind of mandate.
  • Speaking of mandates, I’ve also heard Bush claiming a “broad nationwide victory,” presumably looking to claim a mandate for the next few years. True to form, this is gross exaggeration. Bush lost all of the northeast, the upper mid-west and the entire west coast. He won the popular vote this time, but with a measly 51%. None of this equals a mandate. By this standard, there are national mandates to:
    • Keep abortion legal or “mostly legal” (56%)
    • Allow same sex couple to legally marry or form civil unions (60%)
    (Actually, those both look like mandates even without Bush’s aggressive definition.)

    Late edit: I actually made a little picture to visually show how close this was. Each dot represents a voter. There are a total of 99 dots (51 for Bush, 48 for Kerry). Does this look like a mandate to you?

So, that's the end of this disorganized rant. As always, if you disagree, feel free to post in the Guestbook or to send me an e-mail.

August 13, 2004

Last month I wrote a rant but never got around to posting it (I was waiting until I had more updates for the site, but never got around to doing those either).

Now, I want to post some more thoughts on the same subject. The problem, of course, is that since I never posted the last rant, you haven't read it, and until you do read it, this post will be sort of pointless.

So, before continuing, please read the last rant.

No, really.

Ok, so I have been thinking more about this question: if al Qaeda attacked the US between now and the election, what impact would it have?

Last time, I came to no conclusion at all. Now that I've thought about it more and I've come down on one side of the issue.

I think that if al Qaeda were to launch a major attack on the United States between now and the election, George Bush would ride a landslide back to the White House.

Why do I think this? Rocky movies.

We all have this dumb idea burned into our brains that when you get hit in the face, the right thing to do is to stand up and take it again. Indeed, you even encourage the other guy to hit you. "Bring it on." Does that sound familiar?

In the Rocky movies, Rocky always gets the tar beat out of him at first, until the other guy gets either exhausted, demoralized or both. And then Rocky pours on the punching and wins.

By the same logic, if al Qaeda hits us again, we just keep getting up and taking it until we decide to really let loose and knock them out.

Ok, all that was a little tongue in cheek, but I think it's not too far from what would happen. If we were attacked again, I think the country would rally around the President. We would all refuse to let the terrorists achieve their goal -- namely intimidating us into voting Bush out of office and pushing to withdraw from the Middle East.

So if any members of al Qaeda happen to be reading this, heed my warning: if you attack the United States before November, you will all but ensure a Bush victory and you will virtually ensure that we will not leave the Middle East.

Anyway, that's what I think will happen. If you disagree, feel free to post in the Guestbook or to send me an e-mail.

July 17, 2004

This time, I don't particularly want to rant about anything.

I have a question.

If al Qaeda were to conduct a major attack on the United States at the end of October (or in early November), how would that affect the election?

As you probably know, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a vague warning to the effect that al Qaeda is planning to disrupt or influence the elections in November. They haven't given any specific details - indeed they say they don't have any specific information. But the chatter suggests that, like Madrid, al Qaeda hopes to conduct an attack that will cause the United States public to push Bush out of office or otherwise change our foreign policy.

Frankly, I think they probably want to do that very badly, and I am not at all confident that we are in any better position to stop it now than we were on September 10, 2001. Why I think that is a wholly different rant, but suffice to say that I think we are engaging in a lot more security theater than we are actually making it harder to conduct an attack.

I might take that particular subject on soon.

So let's assume there is another spectacular attack on the United States just before the election -- what would happen?

I really don't know, but I think there are three very real possibilities.

Possibility one: the public rallies around the President and Bush wins in a landslide. As we saw after September 11, we are a very proud nation, and attacks seem to strengthen our resolve rather than weaken it.

How often after September 11 did we hear the sentiment expressed that, whether you voted for him or not, you had to support our President? It seems very possible that the same thing would happen if there were another attack. I can almost hear the arguments now: if you bend to al Qaeda's efforts to push Bush out of office, then the terrorists win.

Possibility two: the public blames Bush for the second attack and Kerry wins in a landslide. After September 11, Bush took very public steps to protect the homeland. He created a whole new department to accomplish this. His campaign has been trumpeting the administration's successes in the war on terror, from the victory in Iraq to the change of government in Afghanistan.

With that as background, if there were another attack, the country could accuse Bush of being ineffective in protecting the homeland. It might also resent the Bush campaign's claims that the administration has made the country safer. The obvious course of action in that circumstance is to vote the man out of office.

Possibility three: the attacks simply strengthen voters' pre-established opinions and there is little impact on the election. Those who already like Bush are galvanized to support him in his efforts to combat terror, and they have no patience for the arguments that the administration has done little to make the homeland more secure.

Conversely, those who already like Kerry are even more determined to throw Bush out of office, and they ignore the argument that by voting for Kerry they are helping al Qaeda claim victory.

I really don't know which is most likely. It may depend on how long before the election the attack takes place. More time may give rise to more reflection (even so, I'm not sure what effect more reflection would have on public opinion). It might also depend on what kind of attack it is. If it's the kind of thing that could realistically have been prevented, then maybe opinion would sway more towards Kerry.

At any rate, I think the first and third possibilities I described above are most likely, but I really don't know. If I'm right, though, it suggests that the worst thing al Qaeda could do to influence the election is launch an attack before election day.

Thoughts? Feel free to post in the Guestbook or to send me an e-mail.

February 8, 2004

The Administration

This rant is a bit overdue, but I really want to say something about the Paul O'Neill story (look out, that link is on the White House's web site, so it won't last long). If you haven't been paying attention, O'Neill is the former Secretary of the Treasury and he is the subject of a recently-published book where he talks about his experiences working in the Bush cabinet.

What he says isn't flattering.

Basically, what he's been saying is that the Bush administration is not particularly interested in the finer points of policy and running a government, but rather are primarily interested in politics. So, for example, when discussing issues like welfare and the economy (I won't try to inflame people by including Iraq, but...), the people making the decisions are not interested in making good policy, but rather are interested in scoring political points.

He gives various examples of how uninterested the administration (including the president) was in policy. For example, shortly after he began serving as the Secretary of the Treasury, O'Neill had a meeting with Bush. O'Neill says he had a "long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on." But, during the meeting, Bush didn't say very much, making the meeting pretty much, in O'Neill's words, "a monologue."

O'Neill also famously described the President's presence at Cabinet meetings as like "a blind man in a room full of deaf people."

(O'Neill was also reported to have said that the administration had planned to invade Iraq before 9/11, and that 9/11 gave it the political cover it needed to execute the plan. He fairly quickly came forward to clarify that the administration wasn't so much planning to invade, but rather had contingency plans in case an invasion became necessary. Some have claimed that the administration somehow "got to him" but I believe him. Interestingly, though, he hasn't recanted any of his other accusations.)

O'Neill's motivations have been called into question. He was fired in December 2002 (less than two years after taking the job) because he disagreed with the President's tax cut plan, so maybe he has an axe to grind. Maybe he wants to put out a good story to improve his image after being let go. Maybe he just wants to sell books. I don't know.

The thing is, O'Neill's comments are very reminiscent of comments made by another former White House staffer: John DiIulio (not a typo). DiIulio is a Political Science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, but he also briefly served in a relatively mid-level position (compared with the Secretary of the Treasury, anyway) at the White House. He was the director of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

DiIulio gave an interview to Ron Suskind of Esquire magazine in which he detailed the administration's lack of interest in domestic issues, the lack of focus on making good policy and the powerful influence of the religious right. He followed it up with a detailed letter (which he explicitly noted was "For/On the record") in which he described his experience working in the White House.

(Before continuing, I should note that, the afternoon of the day the story broke, DiIulio apologized and said his remarks were "groundless and baseless." Just a few hours earlier, though, he had issued a statement in which he apologized for any hurt feelings, noted a few minor errors in the story, but affirmed the Esquire story's substance. I don't want to suggest anything overly nefarious, but it sure looks like someone put pressure on him to recant his story.)

I urge all of you to read DiIulio's letter for two reasons. First, it paints a fairly damning picture of the administration's interest (or lack thereof) in policy matters. Second, though, it is overall very approving of the President, pointing out what a kind man he is, and how he is actually much smarter than everyone thinks. DiIulio comes off not as a man who wants to slam the President, but rather as someone who wants to make an almost academic point about policy formation in the White House.

As DiIulio points out, every administration looks at politics when deciding policy. However, DiIulio describes a sharp contrast between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. Clinton's administration, it seems, engaged in detailed internal discussions on policy, weighing alternatives and seeking to make the best choice (this surprised me a little because Clinton was often described as making decisions based on that morning's poll results, though he was also often described as being overly involved in the fine details of policy making, so I guess he did a little of both). In the Bush administration, though, DiIluio says that there were no policy position papers floating around or in depth policy discussions among senior staff. Indeed, at one point, DiIulio accuses the administration of "on-the-fly policy-making by speech-making." In fact, he says, the senior staff knew remarkably little about the policy areas within their purview, and had only a "casual interest" in knowing more.

The similarity between the O'Neill revelations and the DiIulio letter are striking, and too much to ignore: this is an administration that doesn't really care what the best policies are, but rather wants only to engage in good politics.

I find that disturbing. First of all, it seems to me that the people making policy should actually be interested in making good policy. I was relieved to learn that Clinton was (perhaps overly) obsessed with the details of policy and enthusiastic about discussing it. I was comforted that, even though I did not understand all the issues around a policy, those making the decisions did. I may not agree with all their policy decisions, but at least the issues are being recognized. I get no such relief or comfort from these accounts coming out the Bush administration. Rather, I get the sense that decisions are made with little understanding of their effects.

Second of all, during the election, when many questioned the then-governor's intelligence and grasp of the issues, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I thought that, even if Bush doesn't know the issues, he is smart enough to surround himself with people who do. Apparently, that isn't true.

By the way, one of the reasons I am increasingly liking Kerry is that he also seems to be interested in understanding policy issues. In fact, it's been one of his weaknesses on the campaign trail: he can't give simple answers to questions.

Vigilantly Guarding the Nation's Secrets

Another quick note here: shortly after O'Neill's accusations about Iraq became public, the Treasury Department asked its inspector general to investigate whether O'Neill had improperly used classified documents when writing his book.

This investigation was announced on Thursday, January 12. The accusations about Iraq hit the wires on Tuesday, January 10th. Elapsed time: 2 days.

By comparison, Remember Valerie Plame? She was the CIA officer outed by Robert Novak, based on tips to Novak from unnamed senior administration officials, allegedly because her husband had gone public that the Nigerian uranium story being pushed by the White House was bogus. It's a felony to identify an undercover CIA agent.

Novak's column was published July 14, 2003. The Justice Department launched an investigation of the leak on September 28, 2003. Elapsed time: 76 days (so I'm told).

Policy or politics? You decide.

Programs /= Weapons

This is just so amusing...

In mid-January, Bush gave an interview to Dianne Sawyer and, inevitably, they began talking about Iraq. See an excerpt from the transcript here.

In short, Sawyer began describing all the failures to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and she contrasted that with the administration's statements that there were (literally) tons and tons of them. Bush started arguing with her about how the search was ongoing (and here's a tangent on that: apparently, the administration has decided that they are going to say the search is "ongoing" for the foreseeable future so that the President doesn't have to say that they didn't find anything) and how Saddam was dangerous, etc., which prompted the following exchange:

SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still.

THE PRESIDENT: So what's the difference?

SAWYER: Well....

"What's the difference??" I think that Saddam being dangerous was reason enough (in this limited case, mind you) for the war, but "What's the difference???"

Same Sex Unions/Marriage

Ok, last one, because this is ridiculously long already.

I've already ranted about my opinion on the gay marriage issue, but after writing and posting, I learned a few things which contradict what I said below.

So, my correction: below I argued that if one state decided to recognize same sex marriage, then under the Constitution, other states would, too. Unfortunately, the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed in 1996 by President Clinton (one of his decisions with which I disagree) says that states are free to ignore same sex marriages recognized by other states. Supporters have said that Congress has the authority to overrule the Constitution's requirement that states give "full faith and credit" to the decisions of other states. Opponents have said that Congress does not have that authority. The courts will decide.

I've also had a chance to think more about my central premise: that "marriage" is a religious concept, so we can't force recognition of same sex marriages. Well, it turns out that the states are already heavily involved in the concept of "marriage," separate and apart from its religious overtones. Couples get "marriage licenses" from the states. They can get "married" by a state judge, without ever involving a church. Atheists can get "married" even though no religious ceremony was performed. Some kinds of "marriage" are outlawed (such as marrying more than one person at a time, or marrying your immediate family).

The use of the term is probably a relic of a time when religion and government were more closely related, and it probably would have been better to have the state recognize "unions" or something, but so be it.

My conclusion is the same as it was before, but even more nuanced: the government cannot force recognition of same sex marriage as a religious concept, but it can recognize same sex "marriage" as a civil concept. As the Supreme Court of Massachusetts recently ruled, separate is not equal, so if the state recognizes secular heterosexual marriage, it should also recognize secular homosexual marriage.

Sign off

Ok, I've finally exhausted the subjects I wanted to rant about. As always, if you disagree or want to comment, go ahead and do so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

November 29, 2003

Today. I'd like to rant about politics (which is the usual subject around here).

It's no big secret that I've pretty much decided not to vote to reelect George W. Bush next November. I don't need to go into the reasons why (though maybe I will as election day gets closer).

So the obvious question is, of the nine Democrats, whom do I support? I'd like to take them one by one, if I may.

Howard Dean: Dean is really popular right now, especially among the younger and more left-leaning crowd. I'm sorry to say, though, that I think he lacks the experience to be president (though he has as much experience as Clinton did, and I think Clinton was a really good president) and I think his plans are unrealistic. I actually supported the war, but for reasons that turned out to be invalid. On that point, Dean and I disagree. In short, I like the guy, and appreciate his point of view, but just don't think he would be a good president.

Wesley Clark: I really wanted to like Clark. I really did. He came to speak at Skadden and I squeezed into a conference room to hear him. I was a lot less impressed than I hoped to be. His presentation was a little forced and he seemed to be loaded with pre-packaged answers on a lot of questions, but that's not why I was disappointed. It was the answers that disappointed me. Specifically, there were three things he said that I disagreed with: (1) he wants to pull US troops out of Iraq "immediately," (2) he supported legislation to ban burning the flag, and (3) he supports the building of the wall in Israel.

I'll go into the Iraq thing more below, but I really want to talk more about the flag point here. The short version is that I firmly support people's right to say whatever they want, pretty much however they want to say it, so long as they don't hurt anyone (physically, that is). Burning the flag is a powerful way to say you don't like the United States. It is offensive to many people, but that's precisely the point. Anyway, I don't want to spend the next half hour typing up a rant on flag burning. The point is that Clark wants to prohibit people from burning the flag and that suggests he does not strongly support civil liberties.

John Kerry: I agree with the early press on Kerry: he's probably the most electable of the lot. I haven't had a chance to see him speak yet, but from what I've seen he generally parallels my opinions on the issues. I also appreciate that he doesn't over-simplify the issues they way some candidates do (Clark was guilty of this at times when I saw him). Unfortunately, he's not a particularly charismatic candidate, and I think he will suffer for it.

Dick Gephardt: I don't know as much about Gephardt as I would like to. The fact that he's run a couple of times before only to lose suggests that he doesn't have what it takes to go the distance.

John Edwards: He's a bit of a mystery, unfortunately. I saw him speak at Skadden as well, and was fairly nonplussed. He seemed very much a politician. Maybe he was off his game that day. I'm sure he's a smart guy, but I'm not sure he has the chops to be president.

Joe Lieberman: I have friends and colleagues who really like Lieberman, but I don't see the attraction. He's a bit too patrician for me and don't think he's TV-friendly enough to be electable.

Dennis Kucinich: Who? Exactly. But I'm going to use Kucinich as a launching point for a discussion of Iraq.

I was watching the Iowa debates last night (the one with Tom Brokaw moderating and Kerry and Edwards on flat screen TVs), and Kucinich got a big applause when he said more or less the following: it was wrong to go to war in Iraq and that means it's wrong to still be there. The applause was remarkable because the audience was generally very restrained.

The thing is, I think Kucinich's stance is morally wrong. The United States inflicted a tremendous amount of damage in Iraq. We destroyed their government (both in terms of people and the buildings they worked in). We ravaged their infrastructure. We disbanded their police and their military. We left the country in a shambles, whether we were right to go in or not.

Having done all this damage, I believe it is morally wrong for the United States to abdicate responsibility for helping Iraq repair itself. Would it be nice for the UN or some other body to help? Sure. Can the United States force them to do so? No. Can we abandon Iraq and leave it to these bodies to step in? No.

For better or for worse, the United States has made a mess of another country. Now it must help that country pick up the pieces.

Carol Moseley-Braun: Braun has a big "who?" problem. I'm not sure why she thinks she is qualified to be president. She was a state legislator in Illinois for 10 years, then became the Recorder of Deeds and Registrar of Titles for Cook County Illinois (which looks like a demotion to me), then was a US senator for a term, getting voted out in 1998. Then she was appointed Ambassador to New Zealand, which I doubt is a particularly difficult job.

And finally, Al Sharpton: He's never going to win, of course, but I have to say he is the most interesting debater of the crowd. Very quick on his feet, and very witty. I'd like to see him go up against George Bush. If it weren't for his history of race baiting, I might pay more attention to his position on the issues.

Ok, so what does all this mean? So far I am very undecided.

I wasn't going to do this, but I wanted to rant about something else: same sex unions.

I think there is a nuance to this issue that is getting lost in the diatribe, and that is the use of the word "marriage." "Marriage" is a religious concept, and in most religions (I think) it is a sacrament (or the equivalent of a sacrament). As much as I think that religions should recognize same sex marriage, I can't make them, and neither can the government.

What the government can do is grant same sex unions the same rights and privileges as religiously sanctioned marriages, and I think it should.

Whether it happens on a state level or the federal level, I don't particularly care. State decisions have the nice benefit of being something that "state's rights" right wingers can't object to. Of course, there are quite a few states (especially in the Bible Belt south) that would never let their legislatures enact same sex union legislation. At least not in the current political environment.

That leaves the federal government. On the same grounds that the federal government enacted civil rights legislation in the 60s, I believe that the federal government should enact legislation to protect same sex unions. Will it? Of course not. The religious right is too powerful a political force to let that happen, at least while there is a Republican in the White House.

So that leaves it back to the states do it piecemeal. As many have noted, traditionally, state governments recognize the rights and privileges conferred by other state governments. The Constitution requires this (Article IV, Section 1, to be specific). That should mean that other states recognize the civil unions in Vermont, as well as whatever Massachusetts decides to allow. And Hawaii, when it gets around to it.

The problem is that Republicans are considering legislation saying that states do not have to recognize same sex unions, no matter what the Constitution says. I don't like this idea for a number of reasons. First, of course, I think it's the wrong thing to do. Second, though, I think it's unconstitutional, so hopefully even if it's passed, it will be struck down. Third, I think it sets a nasty precedent -- the Republicans want to pass a specific law targeted against a specific group of people. The good news is that passing a law that tells states they can ignore each other flies in the face of the state's rights philosophy, so hopefully the Republicans would feel hypocritical voting for it.

Ok, I'm done for now. As always, if you disagree or want to comment, go ahead and do so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

August 3, 2003

Not a huge rant today, but wanted to share one particular conundrum on our favorite subject: Iraq.

Putting aside for the moment how we got into the war in Iraq (which I've already ranted about), I want to talk about what we should be doing now.

See, it's all very good to debate whether or not we should have gone to war, but the reality is that we did, and now the country is in chaos. I have absolutely no data to back this up, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that we've actually lost more soldiers after the war than we did before Bush declared an end to the hostilities.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this becoming a political issue....from either side, really. On the one hand, the left wing types will almost certainly complain about how the administration really screwed up the Iraq situation, and how the mounting casualties just show how unwelcome our troops really are. Again, that's fine, and you may decide not to reelect Bush because you fear him making this kind of disastrous decision again, but I hope that it doesn't mutate into a rationale for bailing out now.

On the other hand, some on the right might start questioning why we're still taking casualties in a far-off country and how we should really leave it to the region or to the international community to sort out the mess. Ok, they're not really going to say anything like this, because their side is in the White House, but imagine if this was the Clinton era. There would be pressure to get the heck out.

So what should we do? I don't think it's terribly controversial to suggest that we have a moral obligation to see to it that Iraq gets back on its feet before we pull out, but I am truly torn as to whether we should try to get the international community to share the burden....

No, that's not true -- clearly we should ask. Why not? The question is whether we should be really angry if the international community says "Get bent. We never supported this in the first place, so why should we bear the cost of cleaning up the mess?"

I really don't have an answer for this.

As always, if you disagree or want to comment, go ahead and do so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

July 1, 2003

Again, it's been a very, very long time since I wrote anything here, but I felt the need to vent again about Iraq, and why we went in.

Here's my basic philosophy on the war in general: I was more or less for the war, based not so much on a belief that Hussein actually had weapons (though I honestly thought he did - else why jerk around the UN so much?), but on my genuine belief that he planned to try to get them and would then pose a serious threat to the region.

Now, that justification was a little flimsy at the time (see my argument below about how it could really be used on anyone -- including the United States), but I was comfortable enough with it in this particular situation. The British government had pretty much the same outlook towards the whole thing: Hussein is a threat, and we have to assume that he will keep on trying to get weapons until he is not in power. Ergo, we really have to try to stop it now.

But not the Bush administration. No, they felt the need to manipulate -- and selectively ignore -- intelligence information to make the case that Hussein had weapons RIGHT NOW and that the United States had to act FAST before Hussein used them. Rather than make the more nuanced argument about threats and stability, they made a simplistic "clear and present danger" argument to garner support.

And don't get me started on the absolutely ludicrous claims about Hussein's connection with Al Qaeda. It seemed to me even at the time that everyone knew that was bogus, but so many people on talk shows, etc cited 9/11 as a reason for the war. There was even a song about it, the awful "Have You Forgotten?" The reality was that Afghanistan didn't give the American public a satisfactory sense that we'd "gotten them back" for 9/11, so they looked to Iraq to fulfill that need. Problem was, of course, that there was no credible evidence that Hussein had any connection at all with Al Qaeda, and every indication that Al Qaeda loathed Hussein for his secularist ways (and even more for his fake spirituality when it came time to rev his citizens up for conflict with the west).

Let me be clear about one thing here: I don't think the Bush administration cynically invented a reason to attack Iraq for the sake of oil companies. I think they honestly believed that the United States needed to do something about Hussein. The problem was that, in making their case, they manipulated the intelligence to support their preferred outcome. It's similar to a trial lawyer spinning the facts in a trial in a way that supports his client's position in the case. The difference here is that there is no defense lawyer with access to the same information arguing the other side.

And this is what has really bothered me about this administration: its simplistic approach to everything. Bush simplifies everything and then states the obvious with a half-smirk and chuckle as if to say "C'mon, this is so simple. Why don't you get it?" And that attitude really gets on my nerves.

It's not as if the administration does not understand how complex things really are. It's as if they think we are all too dumb to appreciate it. Or, to be more cynical, they dumb it down so that clueless voters don't see what is really happening.

Economy in bad shape? Give people their money back in a tax cut. Pissed off about 9/11? Let's attack Iraq.

That's one thing I really liked about Clinton: you got the sense that he respected our intelligence (at least with respect to policy decisions) and was willing to explain what was really going on (no Monica comments, please). That probably has something to do with the generally-accepted idea that Clinton really enjoys discussing the ins and outs of various policies. Somehow, I think Bush wishes everything were simpler, so he spins it that way.

Another clarification: simplifying things is not inherently bad. In fact, it often is a very effective way to see through issues to get at their hearts. I am sure that there are many very bright people who approach issues by looking at them in the simplest way possible. So, I'm not attacking Bush's intelligence. I'm really not. What I am attacking is his seeming inability to recognize, or at least acknowledge, that reality is not as simple as he portrays it.

Sometimes, I wonder if the Bush administration isn't using simple arguments to hide complex strategies. An example is the most recent tax cut. I've seen it suggested that the short term tax cut is really designed to starve the federal coffers to force Congress to make a choice between raising taxes (scary political move) or cut federal programs. I have no problem with arguing to cut programs. Sometimes I might even agree on a cut. But I do have a problem with doing that behind the scenes. If you want to make the case to cut programs, then make it and see if the people support it (though sometimes government action has to fly in the face of public support - e.g., flag burning amendments).

I could go on for pages and pages, but I doubt anyone is reading this far, so I'll stop.

As always, if you disagree, go ahead and tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

November 11, 2002

It's been ages since I wrote anything here, and there is so much to talk about now. So here goes...

The election

Both Molly and I tend to lean towards the Democrats come election time, and this year was no exception (though we think Governor Pataki is doing a fine job, so we were not too broken up over that). So, we were a little disappointed in the returns this year, especially with respect to the Senate.

What happened? Well, it's all been said before: the Democrats never really got out an actual message. There was lots of equivocation on Iraq, and a few notes about the economy, but it seemed to us like the Dems never really managed to tell the country what they were actually for.

So let's try to work on that for next time, ok?

And let's hope for another Jim Jeffords party-switch. (Senator Chafee, we're looking at you)


I'm glad the US finally decided to go through the UN on Iraq, but it seems as though the administration did everything it could to give itself a unilateral ability to go after Hussein should he delay and avoid like everyone expects he will.

That said, there has been some suggestion that, now that the election is over, the Iraq situation will slowly fade from the headlines and there will not be an attack. I don't know that I buy it, though. Even assuming the whole thing is a political ploy (but don't forget that I really do think we need to do something about Hussein, so I'm not convinced it's a ploy), having made so much noise about Hussein in such a public way, the Republicans can hardly back down now or the Democrats will stick it to them in '04.

Speaking of '04, has there been any kind of consensus on how people will pronounce years going forward? Just about everyone I know is saying "two thousand two" rather than "twenty-two" or "twenty oh-two." Are we stuck with that mouthful for the rest of the century? My prediction: we will keep with the "two thousand ___" for the rest of the decade, but will switch to "twenty-ten" and use that phrasing for dates after that point.

And what do we call this decade, anyway? The "Oh's"? The "Aughties"? And what about the next decade? The "Teens"? Another prediction: we will fumble around this one forever, just as we fumble around what to call the two decades after 1900.

Maybe the reason there isn't the kind of nostalgia for those decades that we have for the 20's, 30's, 40's, etc., is that we don't have a catchy name for them. You see, it's all about branding.

Ok, that's enough for now. As always, if you disagree, go ahead and tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

September 25, 2002

Just a quick one today. Tony Blair, British Prime Minister and all-around USA fan, has released a report on the Iraq situation. I haven't read the whole thing yet (been a little busy at work), but from what I've seen so far, it boils down to a few key points:

  • Iraq has acquired chemical and biological weapons and the long range missiles to deliver them to it's neighbors, even though it agreed to give up these weapons at the end of the Gulf War.
  • Intelligence suggests that Iraq places great emphasis on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, because it believes it is these weapons that secure its regional power, so we can assume it will do what it can to get them.
  • British intelligence also suggests that Iraq is planning to hide its efforts from UN inspectors.
  • Saddam Hussein has a history of violence and repression that suggests he will not hesitate to use these weapons against his enemies at home or abroad.

The thing is, this does not seem to me to be an argument for attacking now, but rather an argument for implementing a new, unrestricted inspection system, followed by an attack if the inspections are not successful.

It seems so far that the US and the UK agree with me in principle, but it also seems like both have basically assumed the inspections won't be successful, so they are gearing up for war.

Maybe they're right (in fact, they probably are), but I don't want the government to get overwhelmed by "go fever" and launch an attack before there is real cause for doing so.

Ok, that's enough for now. As always, if you disagree, go ahead and tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

September 16, 2002

Great. Now What? Iraq says it will allow inspections "without conditions" to "remove any doubts Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction." (I've tried in vain to find a copy of the actual letter)

This is good news, right? I'm really not sure. Is Hussein just going to jerk around the UN for another few years while doing everything he can to keep inspectors away from the real work going on? That seems more likely than the idea that he will just drop all the programs we're sure he has going already (remember, it's been years since a weapons inspector has even set foot in Iraq, let alone actually inspected anything).

I really don't know what we should do about this. If we announce that we don't believe Hussein and take steps against him despite this new promise, then we're thumbing our noses at the UN, which I do not support (I like the UN in principle - international law is a good thing and we should abide by it). If we were going to make a public statement of no confidence in the UN anyway, why'd we even go to ask its support?

On the other hand, if we take Hussein at face value and start the inspections again, we just give him more time to stall and evade while he continues his programs.

I don't like it. I don't like it one bit.

Oh, and on the subject of naming Al-Qaeda snitches (see below), I heard another theory from Donald Rumsfeld today. The idea, as I understand it, is that by naming the squealers, we send a message to potential recruits: "See? This guy - a high level planner who presumably believes in the cause - turned against the organization. He must have decided what you were planning was wrong."

An interesting idea, but I'm not sure I buy it.

Anyway, that's what I think. If you disagree, go ahead and tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

September 15, 2002

There are two things I'd like to vent about today: Ground Zero and Iraq.

First, Ground Zero. There has been a great deal of coverage and speculation as to what should be built on that spot. The first plans seemed geared towards replacing the space, while preserving some sort of memorial. These plans, though well-intentioned, seemed to meet with near-unanimous disapproval, for good reason. They were somewhat lacking in imagination.

Other proposals had a great deal of imagination, but failed for other reasons. This guy, for example, deserves credit for ambition but his plan is, in my opinion, irresponsible and stupid (some sort of device to knock down everything in the sky for a 5 mile radius? Please).

I recently read a special issue of the New York Times Sunday magazine which had a huge section on the plans for redesigning the site. They collected a group of architects and others to prepare ideas not only for the site but for all of lower Manhattan.

I liked their ideas. Even the crumpled office buildings. They won't let me put links directly to their pictures, but be sure to check out the transportation hub - very cool.

I'm not an architect, though, so I'm in no position to comment on whether the actual building designs are any good (though the upside down office towers strike me as being a little top-heavy). There were two non-architectural ideas that I really liked:

  • Bury the West Side Highway near the site, thus freeing up some 16 acres of land for development. That way, you can (a) build incrementally to meet demand rather than build something big all at once, and (b) take the pressure off from building on the actual site so we can all take some more time to figure out exactly what to do with it.
  • Take advantage of this opportunity to rethink the focus of lower Manhattan. Don't just build a ton of replacement commercial, retail and hotel space to replace what was destroyed. Build a series of buildings to meet different needs: housing, cultural centers (and I don't just mean a museum or an opera house - I mean build an environment where people can meet and exchange ideas), educational centers, offices and parks.

As for the memorial itself, I like the idea of reflecting pools on the footprints of the two towers, possibly with high-intensity lights underneath them so that they can reproduce the "towers of light" on occasion (FYI, I do not favor the idea of shining the towers every September 11th - like Pearl Harbor before us, 9/11 will not have the same relevance to future generations as it does for ours, so I think imposing a massive, inescapable memorial on the entire city is inappropriate).

Second, Iraq. I pontificated a bit earlier (see below), so I'm not going to go into that again. I just wanted to say that I appreciate that the government is now seeking support from the United Nations. The question is, what do we do if Iraq says "ok, ok, we'll allow the inspectors back"?

If the inspections are sufficient to allow us to find and destroy all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (I don't really like that phrase), then I suppose we should be satisfied with that. Short of that, though, I think we still need to take some sort of more direct action against Hussein personally, even if covertly.

Oh, and one more thing: why does the government publish the names of the Al-Qaeda captives that give us information? Seems to me that if they know their names will be released, the captives will keep quiet to save their families from retaliation. On the other hand, releasing their names pretty much guarantees their loyalty to us, since no terrorist organization will have them if they're known snitches (unless, of course, they are feeding us false information).

Anyway, that's what I think. If you disagree, go ahead and tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

September 1, 2002

Let's talk Iraq.

I confess I was not a huge supporter of the Gulf War at the time. Not that I was in favor of allowing one country to invade another, but it seemed to me that our interest in oil production had a lot to do with our decision to go full tilt into an effort to liberate Kuwait. (FYI, I am now less convinced that economic interests can't sometimes justify war, but I am still squeamish about forming the basic equation that economics can be made to equate to human lives.)

This time, though, I have come to the conclusion that forcing a regime change in Iraq is probably a good idea. (Here is a nice discussion of the issue.)

We all know, of course, that Saddam Hussein is not a nice guy, but the United States is not in the habit of ousting every dangerous dictator in the world. It may be a good idea, but we just can't afford to do it.

Hussein is different because he has the desire and the ability to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and to use them on his enemies, foreign and domestic. Is it logical to wait until he does so? I don't think so.

I think in these circumstances, a "preemptive strike" by the United States is a rational response to an irrational man.


I do not think that the United States can act unilaterally on this point.

First of all, doing so creates a dangerous precedent: if Country A believes that Country B has weapons of mass destruction, and also believes that Country B might decide to use them against Country A, then Country A has the right to force a change in leadership in Country B. How long do you think it would be before someone decided that the United States was a Country B?

In order to avoid creating that precedent, the United States would need international support for military action -- such as a UN resolution.

Second of all, so far it seems that most other countries do not agree that military action is necessary. Why not? Some countries (like France and Russia) have economic or other reasons to want to maintain stability in Iraq, and many Middle Eastern countries have to appease local radical groups by not supporting an attack against another Muslim nation.

But what of those other countries that do not support military action, or that urge our government to use diplomatic means to resolve the situation? I would like to understand their reasons a little more before I reject their positions. When reasonable people oppose a position, I have to assume there is a reasonable basis for doing so.

So what should we do? I would rather the government took the time to make its case to the other governments in the world. If that means providing secret intelligence information to leaders on a confidential basis, then they should do it. If they can make the information public, all the better.

If, after doing what they can to convince the world that military action is necessary, the government cannot get enough support to get a UN resolution to support it, then the government should step back and take long hard look at the objections.

Anyway, that's what I think. If you disagree, go ahead and tell me so either by e-mail or in the Guestbook.

Oh, and FYI, here's what the Iraqi news agency has to say.

Back home.